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weblog archives
eXTReMe Tracker
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
How a myth is born, circulates and enters common currency. Is the NHS the world's third largest employer, after the mighty People's Liberation Army of China and the extensive Indian railway network? Some people even say it's the second largest and a cursory googling would suggest that this amazing fact is indeed true.



Dig further and even reputable sources quote the factoid, including the Times and the Guardian. But it's not actually true at all. The 'fact' was a throw-away remark by a high level member of the NHS fraud squad team, trying to make a point at a briefing some time in the early 21st century. Picked up by soundbite-hungry journalists, it rapidly entered popular currency and has now become accepted wisdom. Granted, the NHS is a huge employer, although even official figures (1.3m employees) are now coloured by the knowledge the comparison was just for effect.

The world's largest employer, most sources agree, is actually Wal-Mart (although admittedly this type of information is often liberally sprinkled with myth as well), with 1.7m employees. Although no-one doubts the size of China's army, size estimates vary, from 2.8m in 1999 (CNN) to 2.5m in 2006 (Newsweek). It's also not really an 'employer' in the traditional sense.

The Indian Railways aren't small - see wikipedia's history of rail transport in India and the Indian railways fan club - with its extensive trivia page but there are no easy to find figures for employee numbers. The CIA World Factbook notes there are 63,230km of railways in the country. Couple this with the heavily bureaucratic grading system of workers (see the IRFCA's operations page), which catalogues grades of drivers thus: 'Driver, Passenger Driver, Senior Passenger Driver, Goods Driver, Senior Goods Driver, Shunter, Senior Shunter, Fireman, Senior Fireman, Diesel Assistant, Senior Diesel Assistant, Electric Assistant, Senior Electric Assistant, Second Fireman, Senior Second Fireman,' and you can see how the total might stack up.

*

Other things. Few things are more controversial than children's illnesses and our perception and response to their needs. Jon Ronson took a look at so-called psychic children, 'The Chosen Ones' in the Observer last Sunday, keeping as straight a face as he could manage (the piece is actually very sympathetic). The feature preceded a documentary, My Kid's Psychic, which was shown on Monday 7 August. It was predictably depressing viewing, a blend of existing New Age belief and contemporary myth (that of the Indigo Child) tapping into our fear of both the unknown and shifts in how different kinds of behaviour are diagnosed. The Bad Science forums discuss the programme here. There's a huge range of opinions and information collected at Neuro Diversity (weblog), cataloguing the dizzying amount of contemporary research and speculation surrounding autism and how it is viewed in the media, including plenty of information about the Indigo phenomenon. Their link to the Skepdic's definition is perhaps the most succinct, concluding: 'Given the choice, who wouldn't rather believe their children are special and chosen for some high mission rather than that they have a brain disorder?'

The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships, the collection of Harold G.Dick, via this excellent and evocative post/ photographers: Martin Dybdal, Vincent Laforet / a guide to Twin Peaks (via The Horse's Neck, who also links to Espacios publicitarios from the 60s and 70s / Spoilt Victorian Child confesses its penchant for big beat music / 'The mismeasure of woman: Men and women think differently. But not that differently', a piece at the Economist / Jacket magazine, a free internet literary publication.

Plan 9 studios supply virtual cities (the other Plan 9) / Zanpo Virtual Cities, build Sim City-style environments / nasty, brutalist and short, an architecture-focused weblog / something we missed in our earlier post on imaginary islands: the promotional island / Women With Icons, 'An ongoing series depicting women with icons of their patron saints', created by saucylittleone / a set of Arthur Rackham illustrations (via).